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Macular Disease Foundation Australia's Research Grants Program Open For Applications PDF
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Australian News
Friday, 27 March 2015

Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s Research Grants Program is due to open its third round of applications

Grants are open to researchers based in eligible Australian institutions to pursue research into medical, social, low vision, and nutritional research of macular degeneration.

The grants are awarded following rigorous evaluation, based largely on the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) process, along with international peer review, to ensure that the successful applicants meet the highest standards.

Macular Disease Foundation Australia Research Grants Program was launched in 2011 to fulfil the Foundation’s objective to support research to reduce the incidence and impact of macular degeneration, and ultimately to find a cure. Since the program launch, over $1.5 million has been committed to world leading Australian researchers.

Researchers wishing to apply are asked to check the website For further information call 1800 111 709.

Guidelines Developed to Protect Local Eye Banks PDF
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Australian News
Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Thousands of people are needlessly blind because they live in a country where they have no access to donated corneal tissue. Every day, surgeons in these communities face the challenge of securing the corneas needed to save sight from eye banks elsewhere – often in places like Australia or New Zealand.

To help ensure that eye banks in Australia and New Zealand are better prepared to answer such calls for help, a few weeks ago the Eye Bank Association of Australia and New Zealand (EBAANZ) ratified its first-ever Bioethical Framework at its annual meeting in Perth.

"In recent years eye banks in Australia and New Zealand have received increasing approaches from colleagues in other countries for humanitarian services,” Heather Marchin, one of the authors, explained. "We realised that we needed to work out who we will support and why, and how we will respond to such requests. The Framework will now help guide those decisions as we work together to support waiting recipients overseas. Importantly, it will also ensure that those waiting for transplants within our own countries remain our first priority."

Australia and New Zealand have highly professional and regulated eye donation services designed to take account of the needs of donors, their families, and the recipients. Tissue is cared for in a specialised manner to ensure safety. The new Bioethics Framework will ensure these services remain at a high standard and are not compromised under pressure from growing international demand.

"We are launching this Framework at a time when there is growing global awareness of the importance of ethics in relation to human transplantation. In working up our Framework, we were inspired by our peers in the organ donation sector who have developed the Declaration of Istanbul on Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism, and we have had encouragement for this work from the World Health Organization," she continued.

The Framework, which was jointly drafted by Heather and bioethicist Dr Dominique Martin from the University of Melbourne's Centre for Health Equity, has now been ratified by eye banks in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Auckland.

It sets out strategies for caring for donors and their wishes; ethical collaborations and interactions with the local, national and global eye care communities and governments; the need for policy and training; how, where and why tissue will be shared; and how we can support our global colleagues through humanitarian services while ensuring Australia and New Zealand recipients remain a priority. 

RANZCO: Corneal Eye Procedure Not Dangerous PDF
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Australian News
Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Eye SurgeryTelevision program "A Current Affair" ran a story on Friday 13 March about a group of patients who received the wrong eye drops after cross-linking was performed in Queensland in 2012. The Health Quality and Complaints Commission of Queensland found that the ophthalmologist in question was not responsible for the tragedy. The matter is subject to ongoing legal proceedings. RANZCO (the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists) has great sympathy for the patients who suffered severe corneal complications as a result. However, according to RANZCO, the story confused laser eye surgery with keratoconus cross-linking, a specific procedure on the corneal part of the eye. RANZCO also advises keratoconus cross-linking is vital and necessary to halt the advance of the eye disease keratoconus.

RANZCO's concern is that other patients booked for routine cross-linking around Australia may fear that the procedure itself is dangerous and cancel vision-saving surgery. These procedures are carried out by ophthalmologists or eye surgeons who have undergone the highest level of medical training and strict accreditation. Cross-linking is effective in reducing the risk of progressive loss of vision and the need for a corneal transplant by strengthening the cornea, enabling it to hold its proper shape and to protect vision.

Additionally, laser eye surgery as referred to in the "A Current Affair" story is also a common and well-established procedure. RANZCO stresses caution in referring to all eye surgeries as "laser surgeries", when in fact there are different types of eye surgeries for both common and rare eye diseases.

All eye procedures undertaken by an ophthalmologist carry some risk – however minor – and we would encourage any patient who has concerns to speak with their eye specialist.

"Post-operative side-effects to cross-linking – such as light sensitivity and temporary minor blurring – are common for many types of eye surgeries. The vast majority of people suffering from keratoconus and other corneal conditions are suitable for cross-linking, but suitability is always properly assessed by an ophthalmologist, taking into account the patient's past and present eye health," said Dr Grant Snibson, a corneal specialist who has performed cross-linking.

PlanetVA To Launch Program Supporting Local Eyewear Businesses PDF
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Australian News
Wednesday, 11 March 2015

VM RetailerToday, we are witnessing the continuous pressure in the marketplace for independent optical retailers. Not only are online eyewear businesses moving to establish retail operations but there is also a highly competitive market that is enforced by large optical retail chains. As a consequence, local eyewear makers who largely depend on independent optical retailers are feeling even more competitive pressure.

As has been pointed out recently by a local optical business consultant the key to compete in this environment for independents is to understand and practise selling. His definition of selling is "providing customers/clients/patients with sufficient information to allow them to make an informed decision". In other words, provide the relevant information to clients of their choices and the features and benefits of those choices so that clients feel that they are fully informed and confident about their decision.

In order to compete and provide more transparency to your clients, PlanetVA has developed an app (available for iOS and Android tablets), called vm retailer, that allows optical retailers to communicate their latest eyewear more effectively and efficiently.

PlanetVA will be launching a program, starting in a few days, to support local eyewear businesses whereby they will be invited to be part of this new innovative way to communicate their eyewear collections, via their existing retail partners, to the marketplace. 

Rapid Vision Loss from Rare Eye Disorder Leads to New Research PDF
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Australian News
Tuesday, 10 March 2015

eyeOne of the rarest and most baffling eye disorders is the subject of new research at the Lions Eye Institute (LEI). A diagnosis of Auto-immune Retinopathy (AIR) is still controversial but it is believed that antibodies generated by the body to fight an unrelated infection or illness attack and damage the retina, resulting in rapid vision loss. The research into AIR is being inspired and financially supported by Brad and Carolyn Miocevich. Mrs Miocevich was in her 30s when she began to lose her eyesight.

"She went from being able to read to the point where she couldn't drive, then walk without assistance. It was a dramatic change," Mr Miocevich said. "Carolyn had a previous diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) but over a long period of time, we sought other medical opinions to make sure that diagnosis was correct." Eventually, Mrs Miocevich was seen by Associate Professor Fred Chen, head of the LEI's Ocular Tissue Engineering Laboratory, who raised the possibility of AIR.

Associate Professor Chen arranged for blood samples to be sent to one of the few clinics in the world – the Casey Eye Centre in Oregon, USA – that can test for the presence of antibodies reacting against the retina. The tests returned positive, indicating an immune reaction to the retina had taken place. Together, Associate Professors Chen and Mei-Ling Tay-Kearney recommended exploring the option of using specialised medicine to modify the immune response to arrest the decline in her eyesight. With help from Dr Dominic Mallon, an immunologist at Fremantle Hospital, an immune suppressant that is normally used to treat non-Hodgkin's lymphoma was released under special circumstance for treatment of Mrs Miocevich's AIR.

"The theory behind the treatment Carolyn is receiving is to get rid of those antibodies that react against the retina and slow or halt the rate of progression of the disease. This drug suppresses the body's production of antibodies," Associate Professor Chen said. "Carolyn still has some limited vision and obviously she wants to retain that and not see it reduce further." Her treatment, which is experimental but which has been described and used in the United States for this condition, began in December last year and according to Mr Miocevich, there are some positive signs. "It's very early days but Carolyn has seen some improvement in the number of line of visual acuity of her left eye and it appears that the decline in her sight has been arrested," he said.

"The whole process led us to the conclusion that there was not a whole lot of understanding of this condition so we felt it would be a good thing to support further research in this area." The result is the funding of a new research position – to be known as the Miocevich Retinal Fellow - who will work with Associate Professor Chen. It is hoped the research will unlock some of the unknowns around AIR. 

"Auto-immune Retinopathy is a very rare disease," Associate Professor Chen said. "We are grateful to have this Fellowship to facilitate the establishment of a national database of this rare eye disease. Currently we have no idea how many people in Australia have auto-immune retinopathy – is it 10 or 100 or more? "The second thing we'd like the Fellow to look at is the phenomenon of antibodies reacting against the retina in other common blinding retinal diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. "There is still debate on whether these antibodies are produced in reaction to retinal damage or if they in fact contribute to progression of the disease."

Mr Miocevich said eventually, his family would like to fund the position in perpetuity to ensure a breakthrough in the detection and treatment of AIR could be achieved. "An important aim for us is also to raise awareness about this rare disorder and garner public support in finding a cure," he said. "For anyone who is going blind, it is a very different experience to someone who is born blind. Having something so important taken away from you is truly devastating although Carolyn is a very strong person and coming into contact with Associate Professor Chen who really listens and looks for alternatives gives hope to you. "It is our wish that this new research will help others who may be affected by this disorder now and in the future."

Eye Care 'Overlooked' In Medicare Reform: OA PDF
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Australian News
Friday, 06 March 2015

MedicareOptometry Australia (OA) has voiced its concern that eye and vision care services had been 'overlooked' in the Government's latest round of Medicare reform announcements.

Kate Gifford, President of Optometry Australia, said it was vital the Government looked beyond general practice and extended the commitment to discontinue Medicare rebate cuts to optometry consultations.

"A 5 per cent cut to Medicare rebates for optometry consultations has been in place since 1 January 2015. Not only is this making it harder for our most vulnerable patients to access essential eye care, but combined with the freeze on Medicare indexation, it is also threatening the sustainability of optometry services in areas of socio-economic disadvantage. This is a matter of fairness for both patients and optometrists. In light of yesterday's announcement, we urge the Government to also reverse the Medicare rebate cuts to optometry," Ms Gifford said.

The optometry sector has been providing timely and affordable access for all Australians to eye care services under Medicare since 1975, playing a crucial role in preventing, detecting and managing eye and vision conditions and significantly reducing the heavy economic cost of unmanaged eye and vision disease. Ms Gifford said Optometry Australia had also supported the Government's previous public commitment to protect the most vulnerable in our community from changes to Medicare. 

"Now is the time for the Government to ensure optometric services are included in that commitment by reversing the cuts to Medicare rebates," Ms Gifford added. Up to 12 million Australians are living with an existing eye or vision condition, at an estimated cost of $16.6 billion to the community. Despite this, 80 per cent of eye and vision conditions are preventable with regular check-ups by an optometrist.

"With an ageing population, investment to maintain the eye and vision health of Australians should be an increasing priority for the Government. We must ensure all Australians are afforded the opportunity to access the eye and vision care they need and that optometric services are sustainable for the long-term." Ms Gifford concluded.

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